International students gain research experience at USask

By Federica Giannelli, graduate student intern in the University of Saskatchewan research profile and impact unit

This story was originally posted on the University of Saskatchewan’s Research website.

SASKATOON — Students from three continents are seizing a unique research training opportunity at the University of Saskatchewan under the sponsorship of the national not-for-profit organization Mitacs.

The students, who come from Asia, Europe and Central and South America, are on a three-month Mitacs Globalink internship that allows them to do research under the supervision of U of S faculty.

Mitacs, which provides funding for research and training programs, sponsors foreign final-year undergraduate students to work with researchers in their field for three months at Canadian universities. In 2018, Mitacs Globalink internships have brought 38 students to the U of S.

The students are working on projects that range from human and animal health to water security. Eight of them met on Aug. 22 with Saskatchewan Minister of Advanced Education Tina Beaudry-Mellor to share outcomes from their Mitacs internships.

If the students decide to return to the U of S to enrol in research-based graduate studies, they can apply for funding under a Mitacs Globalink Graduate Fellowship — $15,000 to cover their first year of study.

This is what happened to chemical engineering master’s student Anakaren Botana, who was a Mitacs intern at the U of S in 2017. The internship was key to equipping Botana with the skills and experience she needed to start her graduate studies at the U of S.

As a recipient of a Globalink Graduate Fellowship, she came back in May to work with U of S professor Ajay Dalai on a project that may make oil refining more efficient.

“My Mitacs summer internship was how my supervisor got to know me, my work and my value as a student,” said Botana, who did her undergraduate studies at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Tamaulipas (IEST-Anáhuac) in Altamira, Mexico. “I became interested in pursuing a master’s degree while I was here.”

Botana said she was impressed with faculty, and the availability of resources and laboratories, so she asked Dalai about graduate research opportunities.

Mitacs Globalink Graduate Fellow Anakaren Botana. (Photo Credit: Daniel Hallen for the University of Saskatchewan.)

“The Mitacs program was key to bringing Anakaren and other top students from Mexico, India and other countries to our laboratories, and helping us to provide them with quality training,” said Dalai, Canada Research Chair of Bio-energy and Environmentally Friendly Chemical Processing in the U of S College of Engineering. “Anakaren is very bright and it is quite rewarding to see that students like Anakaren approach their research with such a passion.”

Botana hopes her work will lead to better oil quality and yields. Bitumen — sticky, viscous black liquid also known as raw oil — is an important Canadian natural resource. But it contains large amounts of sulfur and nitrogen, which makes it unusable as transportation fuel. By developing special silica-based materials that can help separate nitrogen and sulfur from bitumen before processing, Botana hopes her work will help process bitumen at lower cost with improved environmental benefits.   

“Anakaren’s work is quite innovative and promising,” said Dalai. “Her work is preliminary, but we have already successfully removed more than 20 per cent sulfur from bitumen in lab testing.”

A passion for doing research with impact is also what brought Mitacs Globalink intern Ugo Mendes Diniz to the U of S.

“I had never left Brazil before,” said Mendes Diniz. “Mitacs internship’s best feature is to provide many emerging researchers around the world with the opportunity to come together in a rich international environment and improve their knowledge on subjects they are really passionate about.”

Mitacs intern Ugo Mendes Diniz has spent the summer studying bees. (Photo Credit: Daniel Hallen for the University of Saskatchewan.)

His interest in understanding how bees interact with plants has led him to choose the U of S for his summer internship.

“Canada has always been one of my top destinations when it comes to learning about and doing research,” said Mendes Diniz, who is enrolled in the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil.

Under the supervision of plant sciences professor Sean Prager, Mendes Diniz is studying whether bees collect pollen and nectar from healthy plants only, or also from diseased plants.

This could help scientists better understand how the health of plants influence the pollination activity of bees — how the insects help plants reproduce. Mendes Diniz thinks that understanding the preference of bees can help develop farm management strategies that may improve crop yields.

“My experience with the Mitacs program has been very positive so far,” said Prager. “It has allowed Ugo to come to my lab, which has been beneficial for us both.”

“I think it is positive for students to have the opportunity to experience research on the scale that is performed at the U15 institutions in Canada,” said Prager.


Mitacs empowers Canadian innovation through effective partnerships that deliver solutions to our most pressing problems. By driving economic growth and productivity, we create meaningful change to improve quality of life for all Canadians.